Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

First and foremost I am there to meet the needs of the community and to serve them, not the other way around. Most of all, I aim to walk respectfully on their country.

My name is Robert Kelly, my grandfather is from Hughenden in central North Queensland (Yirandali Country) and my Grandmother is from Taranaki on the north island of Aotearoa.

I work in Culture and Heritage for Department of Premiere and Cabinet, focusing on aboriginal site conservation and Repatriation. I have worked in this space for 16 years.

Feeling really excited about working in the Barunga Community with the Jawoyn mob. Hoping we get a welcome onto Country as my biggest fear is that we do not get a welcome from the Traditional Owners to give us safety while on their country. From experience in the past when mob have come to visit us and not been given a smoking ceremony to keep us safe (if the Jawoyn mob do smoking, I know not every community does) on top of this I would feel uncomfortable proceeding to areas such as rock art sites without being told by Elders that it is ok for me to do so.

My hopes for this week are that I get  to make connections within the Barunga community and that I am able to work with them to help meet their research aspirations.

First and foremost I am there to meet the needs of the community and to serve them, not the other way around.

Most of all, I aim to walk respectfully on their country.

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

As an Aboriginal person from the southern parts of Australia, I have heard a lot of different things over the years about skin names and what they mean but I have already realised that the understanding of the skin system…

It is mid-week and I cannot believe how powerful this experience has already been. Meeting the senior women of the community around the campfire at night and being given a skin name was a very moving thing to experience. As an Aboriginal person from the southern parts of Australia, I have heard a lot of different things over the years about skin names and what they mean but I have already realised that the understanding of the skin system I am going to gain from this experience will far out weigh any of the fragmented knowledge I have been given in the past by people who have never really gone into the system in this kind of first hand detail.

After receiving our skin names, the following day we were given the system explained on paper. What I found most powerful was the interactions I had from that point forward with every person in the community I would meet. Upon meeting the most senior of Elders right down to the youngest of children, everyone has an intimate knowledge of their skin and what their relationship to each other is. As an Aboriginal person I found this to be extremely moving, the fact that I get to experience this and become immersed in the kinship system of our people from another place is an absolute honour and privilege.

I have also been very privileged to be taken to a rock art site and shown the paintings there with members of the local community. I had some really interesting discussions with community members about the meaning behind some of the paintings and the close relationship these stories had to those of our local area. Many of the paintings in the shelter confirmed one thing for me, something that is deeply ingrained into the teachings we receive from our Elders back home and that is, one lore, many different versions of lore but essentially the key teachings and messages remain the same. The paintings reaffirmed that for me in many ways. What an experience it has been so far. I am constantly learning here every day and doing so in the best way possible, directly from community. The little differences in protocols all make up a greater sense of understanding about how things work around here for the Jawoyn people. I feel truly blessed to be here.

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

It is not easy to have people open their heart to you and you open yours to them and then have to say goodbye.

The week is drawing close to an end and I must say I have never felt more honoured and privileged to experience what I have this past week. The relationships and bonds I have formed with the people of Barunga will stay with me forever. I already know that leaving this place will be extremely emotional for me, my partner and my son. It is not easy to have people open their heart to you and you open yours to them and then have to say goodbye. One thing is for certain, we will come back here again. I have learnt so much about what our people experience here in this remote community. I have been privileged to learn about their knowledge systems and stories. I am so grateful that they welcomed us without question and I know that this is largely due to the fact that Claire and Jacko have built up a relationship of trust with the Barunga community over many decades and have in effect, vouched for us as good people who are here with the right intentions. Some of the most interesting things I have learnt are observations of difference in terms of archaeology and cultural heritage management in the way it is done here as opposed to the way it is done in NSW. The main difference being the very clear line of permissions to guide consultations. In NSW the consultation process is much broader and not as specific which I find can often be a hindrance to actually getting work done, whereas it would appear that here in NT the permission system is not only more clearly defined but is aligned more closely with traditional cultural values. Lastly, I would just like to say a huge thank you to Claire, Jacko, Jordan, Jasmine, Isaac and the people of Barunga for all they have given to us this past week. Barunga will forever be in my heart. Barunga, a truly special place xx